Mathew Goggin flew under the radar all week at the Panama Claro Championship, and when the dust settled on the Nationwide Tour’s season opener, the 36-year-old Australian emerged the winner. Goggin, who started the final round four off the pace, needed only a 2-under-par 68 for a two-stroke victory and his first title in more than 11 ½ years.
Goggin, one of only two players to better par each day at the Panama Golf Club, finished at 11-under 269, two shots in front of Darron Stiles (66) and fellow Aussie Alistair Presnell (73).
South Carolina’s Tommy Biershenk birdied the final hole for a 68 to wind up three back along with third-round leader Erik Compton, who failed to make a birdie in the final round and posted a 5-over 75.
Googin spent the past five years, and nine of the last 11 on the PGA Tour and earned his first victory since he won twice during the 1999 Nationwide Tour season -- the third-longest span between wins in Nationwide Tour history at 11 years, 6 months and 19 days.
“It’s been a long time,” he quipped. “I’ve had some opportunities over the years but it’s tough to win. It’s tough to win anywhere.”
Goggin’s win was a testament to steady play and patience as opposed to great ball-striking and a bundle of birdies.
“You don’t have to shoot the best score every day, you just have to have the best one at the end,” he said after picking up a check for $99,000. “I accumulated the best score this week. Today was a day where it was more a question of momentum to lose. Par was a good score, it wasn’t one to go on a birdie spree.”
The Nationwide Tour’s eighth time in Central America proved to be the toughest as temperatures reached into the 90s each day, complicated by afternoon storms that produced proximity lighting which forced officials to delay play several times. None of the first three rounds were completed on schedule.
The majority of the field (40 of 64) needed to finish the third round Sunday morning. Compton, who shared the lead after both the first and second rounds, rolled in a short birdie putt at the closing hole to reach 13-under and take a one-stroke lead over Presnell heading into the final 18.
With the greens firming up quickly and pins tucked tight, none of the leaders were able to muster much momentum. The direction of the day was reverse, not forward.
Goggin joined the leaders in the final threesome, the first time he’s been in that spot since playing with Tom Watson in the final pairing at the 2009 British Open.
Goggin three-putted the ninth hole to fall three back of Compton at the turn, but dug in and waited. Goggin was error-free on the final nine with seven pars and birdies at Nos. 14 and 16. The latter gave him sole possession of the lead for the first time.
“I was fortunate to birdies late and they made a couple of mistakes,” said Goggin. “I was just trying to play solid because there are plenty of opportunities to make bogey on this course.”
Compton and Presnell traded the lead at 12 under at No. 14, when Compton bogeyed and Presnell birdied.
Presnell’s lead disappeared with three consecutive bogeys on his next three holes. Compton added another bogey and was one back when they reached the 465-yard 18th.
“I was trying to win the golf tournament on 18. I tried to hit a hard wedge and get it close,” said Compton, who saw his shot spin back off the front, which appeared to eliminate him from contention.
Goggin, who smashed his drive dead-center, obliged the favor by dumping his second into a greenside bunker.
“I hit a horrendous shot there,” he admitted. “I was in between clubs and I went with a sand iron. I mis-hit it.”
Compton’s pitch came up short again and he would eventually settle for a double bogey to fall into a tie for fourth. Goggin blasted to four feet and canned his par putt, giving him an early boost in his efforts to return to the PGA Tour next year.
“You have to try to convince yourself that wherever you are, this is where you want to be,” he said. “This is where you’re playing so you better make the most of it.”
--With his victory, Mathew Goggin earned his third title in 79 career starts on the Nationwide Tour (1999 Lehigh Valley Classic, 1999 Omaha Classic and 2011 Panama Claro Championship. His win came 11 years, 6 months and 19 days since his last win on the Nationwide Tour, the third-longest time span between victories on this tour. Omar Uresti went 12 years, 11 months, 8 days betwens wins, while Skip Kendall went 12 years, 8 months, 27 days.
--Jimmy Walker is the only player in Nationwide Tour history to win the first tournament of the year and also wind up No. 1 on the final money list. Walker won the inaugural BellSouth Panama Championship to open the 2004 season. Walker had two wins, two seconds and seven top-10 finishes to wind up No. 1 with $371,346.
--Tommy Biershenk’s tie for fourth is his first top-10 since a pair of ties for fifth in 2007. It’s also his best week since a third-place at the 2002 Samsung Canadian PGA Championship.
--Sam Saunders, playing on sponsor’s exemption, tied for 10th, his career-best finish. Saunders fired a 7-under in the third round to move into contention, then shot a 1-over 71 to wind up at 6-under 274. His previous best was a tie for 15th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on the PGA Tour a few weeks ago.
--North Carolina’s Elliot Gealy also carded a 71 to tie for 10th, his career-best effort on the Nationwide Tour. This was Gealy’s 49th career start and his previous best was a tie for 11th at the 2004 Chattanooga Classic.